The weather has finally cleared and it looks like we have survived the snowstorms of 2011. We had to postpone one meeting this winter, but we held two meetings in March, including one on the viability of the private rental housing sector of one- to four-unit buildings. Nationally, renters comprise 33 percent of all households, and more than 50 percent of them live in one- to four-family structures. Given the increasing number of properties in foreclosure and subsequently purchased by investors, and the fact that two-thirds of all renters have incomes below 80 percent of the area median income, we think this is an important issue for all communities. Look for Keith Rolland’s story on what we learned from lenders, local government officials, and for-profit and nonprofit owners.
We also held a meeting that provided the latest information on programs to prevent foreclosure; you can view the speakers’ presentations on our Bank’s website. This was the first time that live audio and video of a Philadelphia Fed meeting was provided to people outside the Bank.
Natural gas drilling and extraction in Marcellus shale are having a major impact on economic development in Pennsylvania, affecting businesses, residents, and communities. The economic impact, as well as housing challenges, is described in two extensive articles contributed by Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research.
Since the last issue of Cascade was published, we have launched two new tools to help you with your work. The first is Map Your Community, which is available on our website. It allows you to easily and quickly examine certain data (such as educational levels, income, and property vacancies) on your community through a mapping interface. We partnered with The Reinvestment Fund’s PolicyMap to provide you with this information. Please try this tool and let us know if we have captured the information you need most.
In January we launched our Community Outlook Survey (COS). We have always had conversations on financing and other needs in the diverse communities of our Federal Reserve District. This survey is a complement to our face-to-face meetings, plus it allows us to tabulate the responses throughout the District. We will build a diffusion index and identify trends as we receive quarterly responses. A similar business survey has been used for 40 years with the business community, and it is interesting to see how responses change shortly before a recession or growth period. We plan to use the COS the same way. To see a copy of the first set of results, go to www.philadelphiafed.org and select Community Development and then COS.
In this issue, you can also read about two bankers’ notable leadership in financial education.
Last but not least, earlier this year we changed the name of our department from Community Affairs to Community Development Studies and Education. We think this name more clearly identifies what we do.